Patrice Tanaka, Founder & Chief Joy Officer of Joyful Planet LLC, interviews people who are actively living their purpose and contributing to a more joyful planet. This interview spotlights Leslie Grossman, speaker, trainer, author, coach and advocate for women’s leadership development.
PT: Leslie, what I love and admire about you is how you’ve pursued your passion and actively lived your purpose throughout your life and career, starting with your firm, Communications/Marketing Action where you created a highly successful B2Women division that led you to co-found the Women’s Leadership Exchange as a social entrepreneurship to help women grow their businesses into multimillion dollar enterprises and then continue this work through Leslie Grossman Leadership and, more recently, become a Vistage International Chair to help your CEO members become better leaders. In the midst of all this, you also found time to serve on the Global Advisory Council of IMPACT Leadership 21, whose mission is to transform global leadership by creating gender equity, and write two books, including LINK OUT: How to Turn Your Network into a Chain of Lasting Connections. Whew!
Leslie, can you share your life’s purpose with us? I define a life’s purpose as one that leverages your greatest talents, expertise and passion in service of people and planet.
LG: Sixteen years ago, I got clear that my life’s purpose was to create more women leaders in the world. My belief behind that purpose is that success, happiness and peace will result when companies, organizations and governments are led by collaborative leaders. Research has shown that women’s natural leadership style is collaborative. Women tend to be better listeners, nurturers and givers. All are requirements for collaboration. My work addresses both men as well as women. Genders need to learn more about their differences, especially how they communicate, so that they can collaborate and work effectively together to make positive change. That’s why in addition to my work with women leaders, I also work with men. I do this by leading Vistage Advisory Boards and teaching teams at George Washington University’s Center for Excellence in Public Leadership.
PT: When did you discover your life’s purpose? Was there a triggering event?
LG: I was working with my executive coach, Tony Smith of VSA Consulting, when I discovered that everything that gave me joy was related to impacting the success and leadership of women. As a good coach, he asked me the questions that led me to discover my purpose. The triggering event was 9/11. After leading a marketing agency for 15 years, my ‘paid’ work paled in my own eyes vs. the volunteer work I was doing for women business owners as president of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners). Through my coach I committed to discover a business that used my skills and enabled me to pursue my purpose and do well by doing good.
PT: And once you determined your purpose how did you begin to actively live it?
LG: First, I launched B2Women, a subsidiary of my agency, to help corporations market effectively to women business owners and executives. My “aha” was that clients not only wanted strategy, they wanted a vehicle to connect directly to successful women business owners. That’s how the concept for Women’s Leadership Exchange evolved. I designed a high-profile educational conference program to help women entrepreneurs at $1 million in revenue grow their businesses to multi-millions by becoming better leaders. By holding conferences in five major markets each year, corporations could meet and talk directly to the audience they wanted to capture. I used my marketing expertise to pursue my purpose. It magically evolved into reaching over 65,000 women at more than 85 conferences in a nine-year period. Corporations like American Express, IBM, IKEA, Best Buy and Aetna eagerly participated. It was a win-win for the women and their companies as well as our corporate sponsors.
PT: Did knowing your purpose in life change what you do in your professional life in any way? How about in your personal life?
LG: Totally. I eventually scaled down and closed my agency to focus on Women’s Leadership Exchange. This enabled me to travel extensively to produce the conferences, often taking my family with me. It brought great joy to my life to make a difference in so many women’s lives, as well as their employees. I also had great times traveling with my family. After the financial crisis of 2008, corporations were forced to tighten their belts and resources were reduced considerably. That’s when I began to re-evaluate how my life’s purpose might evolve. That lead me to write my second book: LINK OUT; and become a leadership coach and public speaker. I was then tapped by Vistage International to facilitate advisory boards of CEOs and senior executives.
PT: How does it feel to be living your life’s purpose? Does it inform the choices and decisions you make about your life?
LG: I know each day I am living authentically and true to myself. This gives me great joy. I am voracious about my work and could really do it 24/7 without complaining because it makes me so happy. I am also fortunate to have a loving husband, two wonderful grown children and now two little grandchildren. I love the time I spend with them. I am surrounded by extraordinary friends, most of whom I met because of living my purpose and we share common values. I love sharing, and coaching women, girls and men who look to become more effective collaborators. I continue to present workshops to help women foster better communication between the genders. I am fortunate to play an active role with Impact Leadership 21, an organization that shares a common purpose with me.
PT: What is the result of knowing and actively living your life’s purpose? Has it contributed to the success, fulfillment and joy you experience in life?
LG: Yes, yes and YES! I feel totally fulfilled knowing I am contributing to the success of others.
PT: How important is it for leaders and aspiring leaders to discover and live their purpose?
LG: I believe that once you discover your life’s purpose, you can build a career around it. People incorrectly assume that living one’s life purpose means you have to drop out of the business world and work in a nonprofit, but that is not true at all. Once you get clear on your purpose, it’s important to begin to observe how you can embrace it in your current career, first. Often it can be part of the career you are already in. For instance, a young woman I admire who is a financial advisor has embraced a cause about which she cares deeply. Her activism and leadership in that realm has opened the door to many clients who share her commitment. Another example is a coaching client of mine, who is an extraordinary marketer, her purpose is to treat and ultimately find a cure for a particular disease. She now works as a marketing director for a pharmaceutical firm that is working on a cure for this disease.
PT: What are your greatest hopes and dreams for the life purpose you have chosen?
LG: My greatest dream is for women to be equally represented as leaders at the highest levels of influence in business, non-profit, education, science, technology and governments world-wide; and that men and women will be collaborating and communicating effectively.
PT: What do you think you would be doing now if you hadn’t determined and then actively begun to live your purpose? How important is it for individuals to discover their life’s purpose?
LG: I’d either be continuing to lead a marketing agency or working for an online company. However, it’s hard for me to imagine that, since I’ve always followed my intuition throughout my life, and my intuition has led me to my purpose.
PT: What advice would you give others about discovering their life’s purpose?
LG: Take the time to discover your life’s purpose. Than explore the many options for beginning to make your purpose a part of your life. At first, move slowly and integrate your purpose into your spare time or into your career. Once you dip your toe into the pool of purpose, if it feels right, decide whether you will make it a weekend swim or take a deep dive. Do lots of research; talk to many people who can guide you and then take the steps to integrate your purpose with your life. Follow your instinct and your passion; your happiness and fulfillment will follow. Remember, this is a process, and, for most, patience and persistence are required.